Italian F-35 Pilots First Flight


The impact of the F35 as a global coalition capability is clear to the professionals who are shaping airpower modernization.

For example, the head of the Italian Air Force, Lt. General Preziosa hammered home the point of how significant the impact of the F-35 was in a recent interview in his office in Rome.

The F-22 and the F-35 are called fifth generation aircraft, but really the F-35 is the first airplane built for the digital age, we are rapidly moving from the dog-fight concept to the data-fight evolution of the broad utilization of air power.

It was conceived in and for that age, and is built around the decision tools in the cockpit and is in fact a “flying brain.”  

And that makes it different from other aircraft.  

It is a multi-tasking aircraft, and fits well into the I-phone age. 

Other aircraft – with the exception of the F-22 – are built to maximize out as multi-mission aircraft, which execute tasks sequentially and directed to do so.

 The F-35 fleet thinks and hunts and can move around the mission set as pilots operate in the battlespace and  leverage the data fusion system. 

It is a battlespace dominance aircraft; not a classic air superiority, air defense or ground attack aircraft. 

It changes the classic distinctions; confuses them and defines a whole new way to look at a combat aircraft, one built for the joint force age as well.

The Army and the Navy will discover, as the F-35 fleet becomes a reality, how significant the F-35 is for their combat efforts.

The coalition aspect is crucial to the Italians as highlighted by Lt. General Preziosa:

For Lt. General Preziosa, the close relationship with the RAF was important in working through the way ahead with regard both to Eurofighter modernization and working with the F-35.

“There is no point in having to repeat lessons which have been learned by one Air Force or the other.”

But what is often lost Inside the Beltway is that the roll out of the F-35 is not simply that of a new aircraft, but a whole new approach to building coalition capabilities from the ground up.

An Italian F-35 Lightning II pilot is met by a 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit Airman Nov. 5, 2015, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after the pilot flew the first Italian F-35 training mission. U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan
An Italian F-35 Lightning II pilot is met by a 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit Airman Nov. 5, 2015, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., after the pilot flew the first Italian F-35 training mission. U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan

No better example of this can be that of the Italians now training at Luke Air Force base, where the Italian pilots first training flight was on an Aussie F-35 at an American base on a plane maintained by Australians!

1/5/2015 – LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Arizona — Two Italian pilots completed their initial training flight in the F-35 Lightning II Nov. 5 at Luke Air Force Base marking the first F-35 flights under control of an Italian pilot.

Today marks another significant step forward for the F-35 program as today’s missions showcased the full partnership aspect of F-35 operations here. One Italian flew his mission in an Australian F-35 with an Air Force Reserve ground instructor on the headset. In addition, the maintenance team was comprised of Lockheed Martin contractors and an Australian maintenance liaison officer.

Two U.S. instructor pilots from the 61st Fighter Squadron flew alongside the Italians, guiding them through their first flight.

“This has been a big day for the 61st, for Luke AFB, and for the F-35 program,” said Lt Col Michael Gette, 61st Fighter Squadron commander. “Every aspect of today’s operation was a multinational effort. It was a great example of how all the partner nations are cooperating to make this program a reality and shows how Luke AFB is becoming the international training hub for the F-35.”

The international partnerships were on further display as two U.S. student pilots took their first flight as well, one guided by a U.S. instructor pilot and the other by an Australian.

“It is great from an Australian partner perspective to be contributing to the outcome of training F-35 aircrew,” said Squadron Leader Nathan Draper, Australian Participant Maintenance Liaison Officer. “To see a USAF IP alongside an Aussie jet with an Italian partner getting his first flight is seeing the vision for the program come to fruition. It is a great day for the F-35 and a big milestone for our team.”

The pilots began the academic training phase on Sept. 21, which involved approximately 90 days of classroom and simulator instruction under the supervision of the 56th Training Squadron prior to them stepping to the jet.

“New pilots will be trained in an environment where they learn how to work seamlessly with other nations both from a practical standpoint and a tactical basis,” an Italian pilot said. “Future students coming through the course will be able to fly on many different tails, so it is a perfect integration.”

When the Italian pilots return home they will be equipped to help develop the training programs of their own air forces and will help pioneer the next generation of global F-35 pilots.

Yesterday’s flight highlights the importance of understanding that the F-35 global fleet is about integration, not simply interoperability.

It is commonly asserted that the U.S. intends to fight in coalitions going forward; yet the most fundamental building block for enhanced capabilities to do so is simply staring the combat community in the face – the F-35 global fleet.

Lt. General Preziosa highlighted the way ahead within which the F-35 will play a crucial coalition role in an earlier interview.

“The cost of a fully modern 21st century force that democracies need is beyond even the reach of the richest industrial democracy. We need to share in terms of capabilities, and in order to do so we must ensure that these forces can work effectively together.” 

Modernization is essential and Preziosa sees somewhat similarly to Air Marshal Brown of the RAAF, the opportunity to leverage the F-35 as a transformation asset. 

“We need to think beyond the F-35 as a platform, and to think of the overall system capabilities, and in this case the system of systems within which modern combat forces are designed, built and employed.” 

And the heart of the transformation is to achieve “an effective C4ISR enterprise within which the forces can operate with information superiority. Because we deploy only relatively late, our forces need to be much more effective in being linked together to provide for information superiority.” 

For Preziosa, an effective C4ISR enabled force is one, which can be used “to intervene as rapidly as possible with the greatest effectiveness possible.

By so doing, one can reduce the escalation of the conflict. 

Airpower provides crucial tools to control the fire and reduce its threat to spread (deterrence nature of air power).”

Second Line of Defense has been following Italian and Australian developments closely for some time.

For a look at Italian and Australian airpower innovation, see the following:

On understanding the central role which integration plays in the F-35 program, see the following: